by Melanie Crowder
First line: “Sniff-sniff.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some harsh situations — a character was kidnapped and brutally treated, another character is shot and killed — but there’s no swearing at all. It’s not an action-packed book, so even though it’s on a 3-5th grade writing level, I’d be picky about which kid to give this to.

The world has turned to dust. Water is hard to find. And that makes anyone with water — or who can find water — valuable. Sarel’s family had water, until the gangs came through and killed Sarel’s parents and burned the compound to the ground. All that’s left is Sarel and the dog pack her father trained. It’s not a good thing; Sarel is running out of the little water she has left. Musa has a talent for dowsing, and has been kidnapped (or sold; I was never quite sure) to the gangs to find water. One night, Musa escapes, and finds his way to Sarel’s compound. It’s up to the two of them to work together to survive.

As you can tell, there isn’t much to this slim (seriously: it’s 152 pages.) novel. It’s highly introspective, more narrative than anything else. Even with the tension mounting to the end, it’s a quiet book about survival. I liked it, but I never really connected with it. Some of that was the quietness of it all. But it was also that I wanted more. I am not saying I needed a 300 page action-filled book, but I finished this one feeling like there was something missing. There wasn’t quite enough to it. I wanted more about how the world ended up parched. More about Sarel and her past. More about Musa and his talents. (Though I didn’t want more dog.) I wanted more connection between the characters. And the ending kind of came out of nowhere to me: I wanted answers as to how the book got to that point.

That said, the writing was gorgeous. And I have to give Crowder props for setting a dystopia book in an African-feeling setting. But it just wasn’t all I wanted it to be.

(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel.)


by Carl Hiaasen
First sentence: “Roy would not have noticed the strange boy if it weren’t for Dana Matherson, because Roy ordinarily didn’t look out the window of the school bus.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There were a few mild swear words (which A found amusing), and some instances of bullying and domestic violence. It feels like a genuine middle grade book, with real middle grade heroes (yay!) and happily sits in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Ah, Florida. The air is hot and humid, it rains a ton, and Roy Eberhardt hates it. With a burning passion. He most recently lived in Montana, the land of the huge vistas and great snowboarding, but because of his dad’s job, he’s stuck in boring Florida. Until the day he notices a strange boy with dirty feet running away from the bus stop. His curiosity piqued, Roy follows the boy and discovers Something To Care About. See: Mother Paula’s Pancake House is building a new restaurant. On top of some burrowing owl dens, and the boy is bound and determined to stop the company. And Roy, for better or for worse, finds that he Cares enough to get involved.

I remember reading this ages ago — probably when it first came out — and liking it. Though, I seem to remember it being funnier than I found it this time. It was amusing, sure, especially when Bully Dana Matherson gets his come-uppance at the hands of Beatrice Leep, Tough Girl Extraordinaire. But, mostly, it’s a quiet book about Making A Difference. I like how Roy finds out that while vandalism is one way to get a corporation’s attention, there are other — possibly more effective — ways of handling it. It’s not only a fun book, it’s a lesson in civics and awareness. There are layers of complexity; Roy is bullied (a lot) and there’s some domestic issues with Beatrice. But Hiaasen did it without being preachy; this is NOT an issue book.

Which, honestly, is a mark of a talented writer. And for that reason alone more than worth the time it takes to read it.